I don't think I ever spoke with Mrs. Battoe for more than 5 minutes at a time, but I did wind up speaking with her at least once a year, more or less, over the span of twenty years, even if only to ask for the current phone number of her son, Bruce, a highschool friend of mine and current coworker. Bruce and I hung out at their home on and off over the course of two or three years back then.
During those brief interchanges -- most by phone; very rarely in person -- that I had with her since my high school years, she would always excitedly greet me as an old friend of the family, wondering how I was doing, asking what was new in my life. On the face of it, these were standard and perhaps superficial questions that she might ask of anyone, but from her I knew they were always genuine. She didn't always see too much of Bruce, and in her kind voice I always sensed a genuine connection with a time long past before her only son had flown the coupe.
I guess I only really knew her as the mother of my friend but even as this one memory stands out. A surprise birthday. Without saying anything, Mrs. Battoe had called up several friends -- I was one of them -- and called us over to his house at some appointed time. The details are very vague to me now, but on some week day after school a Bruce -- who had had his own plans for the afternoon -- arrived home to find an unexpected crowd of peers greeting him with a surprise Happy Birthday. Cake and conversation followed, as one would expect, and the gathering disbanded in not too long a time. From this day one image stands out in my mind. Bruce, leaning against the wall, paper plate of cake in one hand and gesticulating with the other with an aura of pleased yet perplexed discernment. "I'm here thinking like, wow, this is really nice... but... these people here aren't even my friends! Some of these people I haven't even spoken to for years!"
I don't picture Bruce as ever having been immune from the typical adolescent self-involved flurry of activity so common to that age for him to have ever kept his mother in the loop, really, about what was going on in his life or who is current friends were. I suspect such is common. Neither do I know what resources his mother availed herself to in order to make contact with all the people she had invited over.
The resounding image I have, of this lady, some twenty years ago, is making do with whatever knowledge or first hand knowledge she had (I think, for example, that she had just met me the week before) to put something together for her son.
In later years I remember Bruce bemoaning / musing how her mother/parents just absolutely had no idea how to relate to him. (They were very conventional as Bruce, on the other hand, went through various creative stages that must have seemed very neohippy to them). Yet, none of that mattered. Without, if this was ever the case, having the slightest idea of who he was or what he was in to, she was there being the most important (if only) thing she could be: she was a good mom. In the most fundamental way that mattered, with or without any day by day or even decade by decade understanding or culural or intellectual in-synchness, she was unquestionably and unconditiionally there. One of the purest definitions of Mom that I believe I know or know of.
When I heard she passed away last month after a struggle with breast cancer, my disbelief/shock had a real metaphysical aspect to it. Looking at myself, who only knew this person with such fleeting and sporadic beveity, and how I somehow managed to have such a strong and real sense that I knew who this person was (even if from a narrow perspective), it was so easy for me have certainty that for the hundreds and hundreds of people who ACTUALLY knew her, the force of memory and identity and impact must have been monumental. And with such a formidable knowledge and memory of someone swept away too young, across, I was sure, so many people, I couldn't really feel how such a person could ever really be "gone." It seemed, and still seems, like an awfully large number of people will have to pass away before she could ever really be "gone."
Such have been the thoughts in my mind these past few weeks. That my busy schedule and general disorganized self conspired such that I haven't even gotten around to sending the card or large floral rememberance I had planned does indeed fill me with some angst. Yet, having finally put these thoughts to words, I think I've found some minor resolution. I feel now that I now know a little better how part of this universe became, and remains, part of my experience and memory.